Skip to Content

Happy lawyers

Five things they have in common.

Sandra MacKenzie, Lawson Lundell, Yellowknife

From our first day of law school, myths abound: Only in-house jobs offer work-life balance; there is no happiness to be found at a big firm, but working there might be worth it for the money; all the best jobs are in big cities. But are these beliefs well-founded? After months of interviewing happy lawyers for our Not Your Average Law JobTM project, we are happy to debunk them all thoroughly.

We launched Not Your Average Law Job to show lawyers thinking of leaving the profession that there are many ways to practise law, and that you can be happy doing it. Through conversations with lawyers across Canada, working in various areas of law, we noticed five things happy lawyers have in common regardless of practice, firm size, or location of work.

1. Happy lawyers intentionally design their practices

Designing your practice intentionally means building it around the lifestyle you want instead of squeezing a life around it. This may seem like something only available to firm founders or solo practitioners, but as it turns out, anyone can do it. 

If you prefer living outside the city, look for jobs that offer flexible arrangements. Take, for example, Erin Ryskamp, the legal director for the fintech company Mogo in downtown Vancouver. She spends most of her days working from home in Langley, an hour away from the office, and dedicates her lunch breaks working out in her home gym. She only goes to the office occasionally and when she does, it’s time well spent.

The pandemic changed how offices work, forcing many professionals to reflect on what they truly want in life and their careers. The lifestyle you want could be more attainable than you think. Take the time to figure out what that is, and then go find it!

2. Happy lawyers find flexibility

Flexibility is something many happy lawyers enjoy about their practice. Big firms can be rigid, with associates and partners spending their days glued to their office chairs. Our interviews with happy lawyers have shown that this is changing and that lawyers who want the big firm life can also have flexibility in their days. Karima Kanani, a partner at Miller Thomson LLP, integrates her work into her personal and family activities to live a more fulfilling life. She may start her day lawyering before getting her kids to school, watch a dance class at 4:00 pm and finish her day focusing on a file.

Everyone’s flexibility needs are different. Don’t stop looking until you find the right level of flexibility for your life.

3. Happy lawyers stay open-minded

Some of the lawyers we interviewed knew that they wanted to be lawyers and practise in a particular area from a young age. Others did not know what they wanted to do until they finished law school, and some are still trying new things long into their careers. Regardless of their career plans, they have all kept an open mind throughout their journeys.

Sandra MacKenzie, a partner at Lawson Lundell in Yellowknife, had never been north of Calgary before taking an opportunity to clerk at the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories during her final year of school. She fell in love with the beauty of Yellowknife and the people there. After a short time practising in Toronto, she returned north and has since been living there for ten of the happiest years of her life. 

Sophie Virji, a partner at Bennett Jones in Calgary, is the child of two accountants. She always knew she wanted to practise tax law. After law school, she got a great job in the area. But she was restless and decided to take time working abroad. The experience taught her that her legal skillset could help her do good in the world. She returned to Canada and got back into tax law with a fresh outlook gained from her openness to trying new things when adventure called.

4. Happy lawyers stay connected and access support

When Breanna Needham moved to Toronto from Saskatchewan for her first big-law job, she knew no one. A litigation associate at DLA Piper, Breanna uses Twitter as a tool to connect with people who share her passions. Her desire to connect with and seek out support from others is common for the happy lawyers we interview.

As in Breanna’s case, connection is not limited to what happens within the walls of your office. It can be found through online communities, or with friends and family outside of the legal profession entirely. Sophie Virji told us that success is not individual. Happy lawyers credit a lot of their wins to those who have supported them along the way and take solace in that support on harder days.

5. Happy lawyers express gratitude

Happy lawyers also tend to acknowledge those who have supported them or appreciating the circumstances that led them to where they now are. Sandra MacKenzie is thankful for the life-changing opportunity to clerk in Yellowknife and the mentorship of the office’s managing partner, Sheila MacPherson. Needham also says she is grateful for the scholarship she received that allowed her to attend university and the professors who planted the seed of law in her head.

Finding happiness in practice is possible in business law or any area. If you have any lingering doubts, read more about the happy business lawyers mentioned in this article and many more at Not Your Average Law Job and take the first step towards a happy and meaningful legal career.